Merkel to meet S.Africa's Mbeki, talk on Zimbabwe

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PRETORIA, Oct 5 (Reuters) German Chancellor Angela Merkel will try to convince South African President Thabo Mbeki today to take a harder line on Zimbabwe, officials said.

Merkel is due to hold talks with Mbeki in Pretoria after arriving in the country late yesterday on the second leg of a five-day African tour.

A source familiar with the meeting's agenda said the German chancellor would try to persuade Mbeki to be tougher with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Critics accuse Mugabe of human rights abuses and of presiding over the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy, which has the world's highest inflation rate of about 6,600 per cent and unemployment levels of about 80 per cent.

Mbeki has adopted a policy of ''quiet diplomacy'' toward Mugabe and has been mediating talks between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change, the southern African nation's main opposition group.

Merkel, who put tackling poverty in Africa on the Group of Eight industrialised countries' agenda during her presidency of the grouping this year, has not signalled a willingness to follow British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's cue on Zimbabwe.

Last month Brown said he would boycott an EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in December if Mugabe was invited, arguing it would be inappropriate for him to go as Mugabe would distract from the agenda.

African leaders are threatening their own boycott if Mugabe does not attend the summit, which is aimed at tackling the continent's problems.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, is subject to an EU travel ban, although it is expected that it would be suspended to allow him to attend the summit.

The Zimbabwean leader says the West has sabotaged his country's economy as punishment for his seizure of thousands of white-owned firms and the transfer of the land to poor blacks. His critics blame the problems on economic mismanagement.

REUTERS JK ND1530

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